VOLUME 1 | ISSUE 8 | July 2018 
Paw Preference & Dog Emotion

Does your dog prefer to hold his Kong™ toy with one paw rather than the other when licking out the peanut butter? Does your dog push the bathroom door open with one paw in preference to the other as she plots to invade your privacy? Most dogs, like most humans, have a paw preference and, just like humans, more are right-sided than left.

This feature is called  laterality and it has been studied in many different species, from picas to primates, and of course, in man’s best friend. Laterality derives from the fact that the two hemispheres of the brain have evolved to have specialized functions.  The right brain is thought to specialize in detecting novelty and the expression of intense emotions such as aggression and fear – it activates “fight or flight” responses (1). In contrast, the left brain is responds to routine experiences and calming stimuli .

An easy way to judge whether a dog is right- or left-pawed is to note which front leg the dog advances first when moving forward down a set of three steps from a position with both forelegs level ( Figure ).
(A) Start position. Dog showing (B) right paw preference and (C) left paw preference. Test is performed with the handler on both sides of the dog.
Sensory Lateralization
Interestingly, studies have shown that dogs have laterality not only in their paw use, but when using different senses including vision, hearing and olfaction.

Vision : When an alarming stimulus (a cat showing a defensive posture) was shown to dogs, they preferentially turned their heads to the left , indicating that the right brain was responding to the arousing stimulus (Note: the two halves of the brain drive motor functions on the opposite sides of the body).

Hearing : When dogs were presented with audio recordings of a thunderstorm , dogs preferentially turned their heads to the left suggesting an alarm-based response. In contrast, they turned their heads to the right when hearing the familiar sound of dog vocalizations.

Olfaction : Dogs used the right nostril (which is controlled by the right brain) when sniffing an arousing odor such as adrenaline. When a non-aversive odor such as food was used, dogs sniffed with the right nostril initially because the odor was novel, but shifted to the left nostril on subsequent presentations of the odor.

Paw Preference and Emotions
Dogs’ paw preferences can have different strengths. Some dogs use the same paw much more consistently for a given task, while others have a weaker preference, sometimes using one paw, and sometimes the other. One study showed that dogs with weaker paw preference showed more stress behaviors when exposed to threatening noises . In contract, dogs with stronger paw preferences were more confident and relaxed in unfamiliar environments and when presented with novel stimuli (3).

In another series of studies, scientists examined how dogs wagged their tails in response to different emotional stimuli. When dogs were presented with an unfamiliar dog showing clear antagonistic behavior, the dogs wagged their tails more to the left . When presented with a positive emotional stimulus, such as their owner, the dogs wagged their tails more to the right. Interestingly, it appears that the amplitude of tail wagging (the distance over which the tail wags) is related to the level of arousal elicited by the emotional stimulus. Dogs wagged their tails to the right when presented with both their owners and a neutral stranger, but the wagging response to the owner had greater amplitude .

The Take-Home Message
These studies suggest that laterality in dogs might provide us with new insights into the emotional lives of dogs and might even help us predict a dog’s behavior or help dogs adapt to stressful situations . For example, right-pawed dogs were found to be more successful in completing guide dog training than left-pawed or ambidextrous dogs (4). Perhaps strength of paw preference might be used as a way to assess vulnerability to stress in dogs in shelters. Studies of lateralization continue to improve our understanding of canine cognition , and that can only help improve our relationships with this species that does so much for us.
Upcoming Events:

For Dog Lovers/Trainers

Sept. 1 - 3, 2018
Coaching the Canine Athlete Seminar
Coburg, ON, Canada
Virginia Patten

Sept. 29 - Oct. 2, 2018
Coaching the Canine Athlete Seminar
Guides Canins Inc
St. Lazare (Québec), Canada

Nov. 17 - 18, 2018
Canine Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Conference
For Dog Trainers
Frederick, MD

Jan 31, 2019 NEW!
NACSW & CNCA Joint Conference
DoubleTree Golf Resort Palm Springs
Cathedral City, CA

Feb. 9 - 10, 2019 NEW!
Coaching the Canine Athlete Seminar
Coventry School for Dogs and Their People
Columbia, MD
For Veterinarians, Physical Therapists and Veterinary Technicians/Nurses

Oct. 12 - 13, 2018  NEW!
Massachusetts Veterinary Medical Association
Canine Sports Medicine
(9 hours CE)
Seacrest Beach Hotel
East Falmouth, MA (Cape Cod)

Nov. 9 - 11, 2018   NEW!
Canine Sports Medicine Module
Canine Rehabilitation Institute
Coral Springs, FL

Feb. 23 - 25, 2019   NEW!
Canine Sports Medicine Module
Canine Rehabilitation Institute
Coral Springs, FL

Mar. 11 - 13, 2019   NEW!
Canine Sports Medicine Module
Canine Rehabilitation Institute
Brisbane, QLD, Australia

Mar. 22 - 24, 2019   NEW!
Canine Sports Medicine Module
Canine Rehabilitation Institute
Coral Springs, FL
References (Full articles available here) :
 1. Siniscalchi M, d’Ingeo S, Quaranta A. Lateralized functions in the dog brain. Symmetry. 2017;9:71
2. Tomkins LM, Thomson PC, McGreevy PD. First-stepping test as a measure of motor laterality in dogs (Canis familiaris). J Vet Behav 2010;5:247-255
3. Branson NJ, Rogers LJ. Relationship between paw preference strength and nose phobia in Canis familiaris J Comp Phychol 2006;120:176-183
4. Tomkins LM, Thomson PC, McGreevy PD. Associations between motor, sensory and structural lateralization and guide dog success. Vet J 2012;192:359-367
Want to Know More?